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Did Len Goulden score the best goal of all time?

John Simkin

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I suppose most fans would argue that Bobby Moore was the best player that ever played for West Ham. He is definitely the best hammer I have seen. However, according to Ernie Gregory, Len Goulden was the best he saw in a West Ham shirt: "We've had some great forwards over the years at West Ham but Len was the greatest - the daddy of them all. He was the one I paid my money to see... I can still see Len now - controlling the ball, he killed it instantly... But don't just take my word for it, ask any of the old-timers - they'll tell you the same, Len was the tops."

Goulden was the most capped West Ham player until Bobby Moore arrived on the scene. He showed his football talent very early and at the age of 14 played for England Schoolboys against Wales and Scotland in 1926. All the top clubs were after him but he decided to sign for his local club (Goulden lived in Plaistow). This was a surprising decision as West Ham was struggling in the Second Division at the time.

Goulden joined West Ham United as an amateur because he was too young too sign as a professional. (In the 1930s you had to be 17 years old before you could become a professional.) Charlie Paynter arranged for Goulden to play non-league football with Chelmsford Town. He was brought back to West Ham and he made his debut against Charlton Athletic on 8th April 1933. Two weeks later he scored his first goal for the club in West Ham's 4-3 victory over Nottingham Forest. Goulden was never a great goalscorer but he did create goals for other players. Vic Watson was the first to benefit from his inch perfect passes.

Over the next few seasons the Goulden inspired West Ham team continued to do well without ever being able to clinch promotion finishing 3rd (1934-35), 4th (1935-36) and 6th (1936-37). Despite playing in the Second Division and facing competition from inside-forwards such as Raich Carter, Cliff Bastin, Ray Westwood, Edwin Bowden and Freddie Steele, Goulden was selected to play for England against Norway on 14th May 1937. Goulden celebrated winning his first international cap by scoring in England's 6-0 victory. He retained his place in the side for the next eight years.

In May 1938 England went on a tour of Europe. The first match was against Germany in Berlin. Adolf Hitler wanted to make use of this game as propaganda for his Nazi government. While the England players were getting changed an Football Association official went into their dressing-room and told them that they had to give the raised arm Nazi salute during the playing of the German national anthem. As Stanley Matthews later recalled: "The dressing room erupted. There was bedlam. All the England players were livid and totally opposed to this, myself included. Everyone was shouting at once. Eddie Hapgood, normally a respectful and devoted captain, wagged his finger at the official and told him what he could do with the Nazi salute, which involved putting it where the sun doesn't shine."

The FA official left only to return some minutes later saying he had a direct order from Sir Neville Henderson the British Ambassador in Berlin. The players were told that the political situation between Britain and Germany was now so sensitive that it needed "only a spark to set Europe alight". As a result the England team reluctantly agreed to give the Nazi salute.

The game was watched by 110,000 people as well as senior government figures such as Herman Goering and Joseph Goebbels. England won the game 6-3. This included a goal scored by Len Goulden that Stanley Matthews described as "the greatest goal I ever saw in football". This is Matthews account from his autobiography, The Way It Was (2000):

In the second half, Alf Young broke down a German attack and played the ball to Charlton's Don Welsh who was making his England debut. We came out of defence with a series of one-touch passes that left the Germans chasing shadows before the ball was finally played out to me on the right. I took off towards Munzenberg, by now run ragged. Such was my confidence that as I ran towards him, I criss-crossed my legs over the ball as I ran and, on reaching him, swept the ball past him with the outside of my right boot and followed it. I could hear Munzenberg and the German left-half panting behind me. I glanced across and saw Len Goulden steaming in just left of the centre of midfield, some 35 yards from goal. I arced around the ball in order to get some power behind the cross and picked my spot just ahead of Len. He met the ball at around knee height. My initial thought was that he'd control it and take it on to get nearer the German goal, but he didn't. Len met the ball on the run; without surrendering any pace, his left leg cocked back like the trigger of a gun, snapped forward and he met the ball full face on the volley. To use modern parlance, his shot was like an Exocet missile. The German goalkeeper may well have seen it coming, but he could do absolutely nothing about it. From 25 yards the ball screamed into the roof of the net with such power that the netting was ripped from two of the pegs by which it was tied to the crossbar. The terraces of the packed Olympic Stadium were as lifeless as a string of dead fish.

"Let them salute that one," Len yelled as he carried on running, arms aloft.

As I said before, Goulden was really known for his accurate 40 yard passes rather than his goals. Tommy Lawton, who played with him for England, claimed that Goulden's passes were "just the sort that centre-forwards pray for."

Goulden played in West Ham's first two matches in the 1939-40 season. However, on Friday, 1st September, 1939, Adolf Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland. On Sunday 3rd September Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany. The government immediately imposed a ban on the assembly of crowds and as a result the Football League competition was brought to an end.

On 14th September, the government gave permission for football clubs to play friendly matches. Goulden joined the police force soon after the outbreak of the war and was able to continue to play 152 friendly games for West Ham United. He also continued to play for England during the war but they were unofficial games and therefore he was not awarded caps. If he had, Bobby Moore would have taken much longer to beat Goulden's record.

After the declaration of war in September 1939, Adolf Hitler did not order the attack of France or Britain as he believed there was still a chance to negotiate an end to the conflict between the countries. This period became known as the Phoney War. As Britain had not experienced any bombing raids, the Football League decided to start a new competition entitled the Football League War Cup.

The entire competition of 137 games including replays was condensed into nine weeks. However, by the time the final took place, the "Phoney War" had come to an end. On 10th May, 1940, Adolf Hitler launched his Western Offensive and invaded France. In the days leading up to the final, the British Expeditionary Force was being evacuated from Dunkirk.

In the final held at Wembley on 8th June, 1940, West Ham United beat Blackburn Rovers 1-0. Despite the fears that London would be bombed by the Luftwaffe, over 42,300 fans decided to take the risk of visiting Wembley. The only goal was scored by Sam Small after a shot from George Foreman had been blocked by James Barron, the Blackburn goalkeeper. It was the only medal Goulden won in his football career.

Goulden was 34 years old by the time the Football League began in the 1946-47 season. He was considered too old to play for England but Chelsea was willing to pay £5,000 for his services. During his time at West Ham he scored 54 league goals in 239 appearances.

Goulden now had the opportunity to play First Division football for the first-time. Despite Goulden's good form, Chelsea struggled in the league and over the next four seasons finished 15th (1946-47), 18th (1947-48), 13th (1948-49) and 13th (1949-50). Goulden retired in May 1950.

You can find more information about this great player here:


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Len Goulden was of course Jewish. A significant percentage of West Ham fans in the 1930s were also Jewish. This is why Oswald and the British Union of Fascist decided to march through the East End. The Battle of Cable Street marked the end of the rise of fascism. It is therefore strange that some West Ham fans abuse Spurs for therefore so-called Jewish connections.

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